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Lunch and Cocktails at Scarfes Bar, The Rosewood Hotel

15 May

In my early 20s I had a short stint at being a legal secretary. It definitely wasn’t the best job I have ever had but it did allow me to get out of the office from time to time. Most days I would hop on the tube to Holborn and walk past the Rosewood Hotel on the way to court. Each time I passed I wondered what delights the building had in store and never would have believed how incredible it was until I finally got to have a peek a couple of weeks ago when I visited Scarfes Bar to sample the lunch and cocktail menu.

As the Bubble & Shrubs cocktails were placed in front of us, I wondered whether 1pm was a bit too early to be starting with this kind of behaviour. But the cocktail, a mix of Sipsmith Gin, St. Germain elderflower, home-made berry shrubs, orange bitters, bubbles and edible flowers, was a feast for the taste buds as well as the eyes and I swiftly told myself to shut up. Scarfes Bar serves proper cocktails; none of the syrupy rubbish that you get in so many so called cocktail establishments these days. Over the course of our lunch, we enjoyed three of the most popular from the menu – Seine River Fizz (Grey Goose vodka, Domaine de Canton ginger, lime juice, Fentimans victorian lemonade, elderflower foam and basil leaves) and we finished with my favourite of the lot – Thyme Out (Bombay dry gin, Chartreuse Yellow, lemon juice and thyme dashed with orange bitters and shaken hard).

The food menu at Scarfes Bar is pretty confusing. I have never seen the same menu dotted with curry, pizza and casseroles before. I wanted to try it all, but knowing that would have been greedy we settled on curry for our main course and a baby gem, chicory, duck breast and egg salad to start.

For main I chose another meaty dish – char grilled Venison, saffron pilau and rock moss kalia sauce. Lucy chose the pan-seared bream with Kerélan curry sauce and we shared a tomato salad, dal makhani and a portion of rice. It soon became apparent when the food arrived at the table that we may have ordered just a little too much food for two of us.

My venison was one of the best Indian dishes I have had in a long time and I was also very impressed with Lucy’s delicate fish dish. I usually stay well away from fish curry as I have had some pretty bad experiences with extreme fish flavour, but I could tell just by looking at the plate that it would be different.

It wouldn’t be right to mention Scarfes without talking about the beautiful interior and surroundings. The room is filled with artwork from renowned British artist and caricaturist, Gerald Scarfe, whose original and one-off paintings showing famous faces such as The Beatles adorn the walls. We spent a good few minutes giggling at the artwork before venturing out into the hotel, past the reception area and chirping birds, to the most luxurious toilets one can imagine.

Lunch at Scarfes was an excellent way to start the weekend and I am looking forward to heading back to experience the live music, which revelers are treated to six nights a week. Until next time.

Scarfes Bar on Urbanspoon

Scarfes Bar
Rosewood Hotel
252 High Holborn
London
WC1V 7EN
0207 781 8888

Tamarind, Mayfair

3 Oct

After living in London for 8 years,  I have finally gone and bought myself a bike. Well, I bought myself a beautiful new bike and used it for 3 days before it broke. So for the last 2 weeks I have been racing around the city the bike of the guy that sold it to me while he fixes it. And it seems I have a few things to learn. Mainly how to actually ride it on London streets. Last night I was on my way to Tamarind in Mayfair when I not only cut up a rollerblader (who rollerblades in Central London in the dark anyway?!) and clipped his boot as he was whizzing by, but dropped my bike (and fell with it) onto the street and almost onto a Porsche, right outside the Michelin starred restaurant I was visiting.

Luckily no one saw me and I managed to hide my helmet in my bag before venturing into the restaurant and being greeted by the reception staff. I was taken downstairs to my table and seated next to the glass fronted kitchen looking out into the restaurant. I waited for my friend to arrive and took advantage of the poppadoms and homemade mango, tomato and gooseberry chutneys while waiting.

When my friend arrived we started with a glass of champagne and browsed the menu. We took a while to decide and in the end asked the waiter suggested a few dishes for us. He decided to offer us a selection of four appetisers – Grilled Scallops, Gilafi Reshmi – skewered ground chicken kebab, Pudhina Chops – lamb cutlets and what I am told is a signature dish, Papdi Chaat – spiced chickpeas, while-wheat crisps, mint chutney and sweetened yoghurt topped with blueberries and tamarind chutney.

The knife glided through the scallop and it was so soft that it almost dissolved in my mouth as soon as I started chewing. The lamb chop was tender and had subtle hints of ginger and turmeric. The chicken kebab was so tender and delicious and I was left wanting another piece. The papdi chat was a delight – sweet and savoury and perfect for cooling after eating the spicy meat.

For main, we were served Tali Macchi – Pan-fried fillet of sea bass with fine beans and raw mango on a sauce of tomato with mustard, curry leaves and coconut. Now, I’m not normally a fan of ordering fish in an Indian restaurant but I knew Tamarind couldn’t possibly disappoint. And it didn’t. The sea bass was perfectly cooked and accompanied perfectly by saffron rice and an utterly unforgettable stuffed naan with date, coconut and poppy seeds.

We also tucked into Rogan Josh and Awadi Murgh – boneless chicken in an aromatic sauce with melon seeds, yoghurt and spices and I spent the last few moments with the dishes mopping up the delectable sauces with the naan.

By the time we had finished mains we were full – very full. But the waiter asked if we wanted dessert. How could I not want a dessert? So without even looking at the menu I asked if they had my favourite Indian dessert – Gulab Jamun, a dumpling of unsweetened reduced milk with almond flakes. Whenever I have this dish I am in heaven and Tamarind’s version was no exception. Lip smackingly good.

I have long been a fan of Indian cuisine and the setting for last night’s meal may have been a little posher than I’m used to and a bit more on the expensive side but we were in there for 2 hours and it seemed like half an hour. They say time flies when you’re having fun. It was the perfect setting for a girly meal and we left, tummies full, content and with lasting memories… Even if I did feel like a bit of an idiot unchaining my bicycle from the post next to the Porsche outside.

Tamarind
20 Queen St
London
W1J 5PR
020 7629 3561

Imli Street, Soho

22 May

A few weeks ago Jack and I were walking up Wardour Street when we spotted what we thought to be a new restaurant. We admired the decor from afar and noticed the familiar name – Imli Street – sister restaurant of the Michelin starred Tamarind in Mayfair. We carried on walking, promising ourselves a future visit. A couple of weeks later we were back.

We started off with a Twisted GT – saffron gin, citrus twists, tonic water and lemonade and set upon deciding our dishes. The concept at Imli Street has been developed by Tamarind Collection’s multi-award winning Director of Cuisine, Alfred Prasad and all dishes are based on four distinct inspirations from the Indian street food arena: Coastal Shacks, Food Carts/ Dhaba’s, Railway Cuisine and Beyond Borders.

We chose one dish from each section, plus a side of Hyderabadi aubergine. Our favourite dishes were tandori paneer and a ground lamb with lettuce cups, a simple dish of spiced mince lamb and lettuce leaves to wrap the mince in.

We were full after dinner but our waiter insisted we try a dessert. I wasn’t so sure at the time but I’m so glad he persisted. It’s been a few weeks since we dined at Imli Street and I’m still thinking about the dessert – warm rice pudding with acai berries.

Imli Street is very Soho – perfect for a quick, delicious bite any night of the week. The cocktail list is different to anywhere else I’ve been and it’s worth the trip alone just for the desserts!

Imli Street
167-169 Wardour St
London
W1F 8WR
020 7287 4243

Salaam Namaste

13 Apr

I love exploring new areas of London. Just when I think I know it all, another beautiful neighbourhood etches a glorious image in my head forever. I was due to visit Salaam Namaste on Friday evening and caught the bus from work before walking through the back streets lined with tall trees, Georgian townhouses and pretty pubs full to the brim with local workers, I guessed lawyers working nearby. Friday evening is one of my favourite evenings to enjoy a meal out. It signals the end to a busy week and gives me the opportunity to wind down and look forward to the weekend whilst enjoying some delicious grub.

I had heard good things about Salaam Namaste. The Guardian gave it 9 out of 10 in a review and it came highly rated from a friend. The restaurant provides guests with a menu from all regions of India and I was intrigued as it was unlike any other Indian restaurant menu I had seen before. The Khasta Murgh – spicy chicken tikka pie with wild berry chutney, quail marinated in mustard and honey and tandoor grilled pepper tomato coulis and pan-seared fresh mackerel in a rich garlic marinade topped with Goan spicy sauce starters caught our eye so we ordered these first and took some more time to ponder the mains. We were treated to a basket of plain and spicy popodoms beforehand, which arrived with the most delicious chutneys and sauces – mango, tomato and mint & yoghurt. We had difficulty choosing from the diverse menu so took the waiters recommendation of Goan style sea-bass cooked with curry leaf, mustard seed and coconut sauce for main and we also chose char grilled chicken with spring onion and tomato sauce, crispy potato fritter, courgette ribbons, pink fir potato, a portion of saag paneer, lemon rice and garlic naan bread.

Out of the three starters that we tried, the chicken tikka pie was my favourite. Spicy, tender chunks of chicken were encased in an open pie with rich and buttery pastry. The quail was tender, pink and juicy but as always when I order quail, the amount of meat frustrated me and it left me wanting more. I was left slightly dumbfounded by the presentation of all starters. Each dish arrived with shaved vegetables and chopped beetroot. I ate it because I like it (and I’ll usually eat everything that’s offered to me) but I couldn’t help but think that it was a pointless garnish. I also couldn’t help but think that this is a different to what was around in 2007 when The Guardian review came out.

The mains arrived and I was pleased to see a different presentation style. The crispy pan fried sea bass was surrounded by a rich tomato based sauce and the chicken sat in a small dish on a plate. We spooned some lemon rice onto our plates and began to eat. We each took a bite of the naan bread and realised that we had been given the wrong one and it wasn’t until we queried it with the waiter that we realised that he had done it on purpose because he wanted us to try their house speciality – date and ginger. I saw this on the menu and on paper it didn’t sound overly appealing to me so I went for the safe option. If Salaam Namaste taught me nothing else on Friday, it taught me that I need to be more adventurous with my decisions and not go for the safe options. This magical date and ginger naan bread lit up my evening. No, it lit up my week, or maybe even my month! My typing has even got faster as I think about it – oh the excitement. Pillowy bread with a sweet date and ginger paste and a thin crusty base. Hands down the naan bread I have ever had.

Another highlight of the evening was the saag paneer. This is another dish that I’ll always order if I see it on a menu and I have seen many different variations. This one was thick and creamy with large chinks of paneer dotted throughout. Once I had tasted the naan and saag paneer, I spent the rest of the meal dunking the naan into the sauce and sort of forgot about the main dishes. I have been toying with the idea of never ordering a fish curry for a while now as I never seem to enjoy it as much as meat. But having had the recommendation I felt I at least had to give it a try. I could appreciate that it was a well executed dish, but it just wasn’t for me.

Neither of us could imagine eating one of the rich desserts so I ordered a mango kulfi to finish the meal nicely. We enjoyed Salaam Namaste and I’d like to take my curry loving dad in the future, if not just to order a portion of the date and garlic naan and a side of saag paneer.

Salaam Namaste
68 Millman St
London
WC1N 3EF
020 7405 3697

Cinnamon Kitchen

5 Apr

Yesterday someone asked me if I only had the choice being able to eat one cuisine for the rest of my life, what it would be. I retorted saying that the question was completely unfair and unanswerable, despite managing to whittle it down to two. The two? Indian and Italian. You see, I have been a lifelong fan of Italian food. Simple home made pasta with a drizzle of high quality extra virgin olive oil, a splash of lemon, a crack of black pepper, sprinkle of sea salt and shaving of parmesan is one of my ultimate dishes and one that I couldn’t live without. But then there’s Indian – a wafer thin dosa filled with hot and spicy masala potato filling and a creamy dahl are just two dishes of this diverse cuisine that I would never want to say goodbye to.

There are many Italian and Indian restaurants in London, some very good, but most bad. These are two cuisines that have been grabbed hold of, commercialised and in some cases ruined. I can list on one hand the good Italian and Indian restaurants that I have tried but I simply couldn’t remember all of the bad ones that I have been to over the years.

Last week I visited Cinnamon Kitchen in the city, a restaurant that I was previously very aware of by the reputation of sister restaurant, Cinnamon Club in Victoria. Cinnamon Kitchen serves modern Indian cuisine inspired by the same ethos as Cinnamon Club but in a more relaxed setting. When we arrived on a Thursday evening, the local bars were overflowing with city workers enjoying their after work drink.

As we were seated, I was surprised by the size of the tables. Considering this restaurant follows more of a relaxed vibe than Cinnamon Club, a table for two was twice the size of one that I’d usually expect at a casual restaurant. The seats were also twice as comfy!

We chose organic salmon carpaccio, caper ‘kachumbar’ (£8) and seared king scallops and devon crab cake (£12.50) to start, followed by baked sea bream, green spices and yoghurt rice (£16), French black leg chicken and broken wheat ‘kichri’ (£18) with a side of black lentils (£4) and steamed rice (£2.50) for main. We then opted for saffron poached pear with star anise ice cream (£6) and Valrhona dark chocolate souffle with cinnamon cream anglaise and pistachio crisp (£7.50) for dessert.

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But first we were treated to a pre starter. Stupidly, as I was so excited, I failed to write down what it was, so I’m sorry that I can’t share that with you. We also polished off a selection of three breads with chutneys (£5) before our starters arrived.

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The scallop starter was impressive – a delicate mix of spices, rich crab cakes and tender scallops. The salmon carpacchio was less so and was more like a hefty plate of smoked salmon with a few capers dotted around the plate.

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Our black chicken dish was brilliant. Tender chicken breast sat in a well seasoned bowl of spiced broken wheat and flaked almonds. I will forever remember the sea bass dish, not for the piece of fish, but for the unbelievable yoghurt rice and pomegranate that sat on the plate. It was the highlight of my whole evening, partly because it tasted so fantastic, rich and creamy but also because I have never tried anything quite like it before.

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We were struggling to think about dessert before it arrived as we had eaten so much food before hand but we managed it. The poached pear was really nothing special but the accompanying star anise ice cream was. But this dessert was nothing compared to the Valrhona dark chocolate souffle with cinnamon cream anglaise. The souffle was sweet and light and matched perfectly with the rich and creamy cream anglaise.

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Not content with feeding us enough food to last us a good couple of days, we enjoyed a mini coconut friand like cake post dessert. Service was swift, which meant that no longer than an hour and a half after arriving, we were back out of the door, full, satisfied and with a lasting memory.

Food For Think was a guest at Cinnamon Kitchen

Cinnamon Kitchen
9 Devonshire Square
London
EC2M 4YL
020 7626 5000

Cinnamon Kitchen  on Urbanspoon

Malabar Junction

27 Feb

Four years ago, I found it hard to even sit next to someone that was eating a curry. After a bad experience when I was ten (I’ll spare you the details), I thought my curry days were firmly behind me. But around four years ago I found myself with a boyfriend who adored the stuff. But it wasn’t just him, it was his family too. Not long after we met, I moved into his family home and was surrounded by it too much for my liking. When we had a night off cooking, I would sit with my lemon chicken from the local Chinese restaurant while they would gorge on dosas and Karahi chicken and lamb chops.

‘Come on Sarah, you have GOT to try this’ shouted my boyfriend’s dad one evening. And that was it, the whole family taunted me and I felt like I was a small child in a playground getting bullied to eat a cockroach off the floor. My boyfriend put the fork up to my mouth and I begrudgingly opened, eyes closed, and chewed. I can’t remember my exact reaction but it had the whole family laughing. After one mouthful, I have quite literally never looked back. The curry in question was from a local Wembley restaurant called Karahi King where my boyfriend’s family has been going for over 20 years. I can’t tell you how glad I am that that forkful of tender, spicy, saucy chicken dish was forced fed to me that evening. It opened up my eyes to pretty much anything and taught me not to be so narrow minded when it comes to food.

We’re lucky to live in an area of London with a large Indian community so we’re spoilt for choice with good Indian restaurants (that don’t serve dishes like the chicken tikka passanda that I ate when I was ten). But I’ve often found it hard to locate a Central London restaurant that serves food as tasty that is also reasonably priced.

I was invited to try Malabar Junction, initially to use as the Indian entry for mine and Jacks Eat the Olympics challenge. But as we want to use our local for that, I thought I’d write it up for you lot.

Malabar Junction resides on Great Russell Street, just away from the hustle and bustle of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road. I walked in to find Jack waiting for me in the sitting room at the entrance of the restaurant, flicking through a copy of Spice magazine, which was sat on a coffee table full of Indian food magazines. It took him a while to notice I had arrived (too engrossed in the magazine) but once he did, he jumped up and we were shown to our table at the back of the restaurant. We sat in large wicker chairs padded with comfortable cushions and looked out over the whole restaurant.

The menu provided a wide range of options, from dosas to Biryani and Tandoor specials. We shared a couple of starters, chilli paneer (£7.50) and a Malabar masala dosa (£8.50) before sharing tadka dal (£6.50) and kerela mutton curry (£10.95) with a side of plain basmati rice (£2.50). I opted for the semiya payasam (£3.75) for dessert, while Jack went for the unadventurous option with two scoops of Belgian chocolate Haagen Daaz £2.75).

Anticipation of the dosa was high. Another local of ours, Chenai Dosa, serves huge dosa pancakes with a delicious potato filling and unlimited sauces for around £3! The dosa at Malabar was slightly more expensive but that is to be expected when you’re in Central London. Still, the prices definitely don’t break the bank. It arrived, smaller but more perfectly formed than our usual with three sauces – chilli, sambar and coconut. We tucked in with our knife and forks (something we rarely do at our local as they believe the food tastes better when eaten with your hands) and thoroughly enjoyed it. The potato was soft and fresh with the perfect amount of spice. The sambar was thick and chunky, the coconut sauce creamy.

The chilli paneer was an utter delight. Soft cubes of paneer sat in a spicy chilli sauce and crunchy vegetables – the perfect way to awaken the taste buds. There definitely could have been a few more chunks on the plate though!

Our squeaky clean plates were politely taken away to make room for our mains. They arrived and the colours were fantastic – two curries sat in front of us, one bright yellow and the other deep red. The tadka dal was creamy with a hint of spice from the fresh chilli garnish. The mutton was tender with the most fantastic accompanying spiced tomato sauce. The bread basket that we chose to accompany the dishes (£6) contained paratha, chapatti, and poori, which were all delicious, except for the slight mishap with the paratha – it didn’t hold together very well and we had to dip small strips into the curry when we would have preferred to rip off a huge hunk for dipping. It didn’t take us long to polish everything off and as soon as we had wiped the remnants of each dish with the last of our breads from the basket, the polite and friendly waiter was quick to clear our plates, but not before commenting on the distinct lack of any trace that there had in fact been a pile of food on each plate.

Our dessert orders were taken and delivered promptly. We knew what to expect from the Haagen Daaz but the semita payasam was a new adventure and one that upon first glance didn’t look too appetising. The bad thoughts were soon diminished as I took the first mouthful of creamy vermicelli, which had been cooked in cardamom flavoured milk and dotted with raisins and cashews. This was a great dessert, not too heavy and the perfect way to satisfy the sweet craving at the end of the meal.

After dinner, we walked out of the restaurant, happy in the knowledge that we might just have found the Central London curry house that we have long been searching for.

Malabar Junction
107 Great Russell Street
London
WC1B 3NA

Tamarai, Drury Lane

23 Jan

When War Horse first opened at the New London theatre, I was desperate to go. But for some reason or other I never made it. Fast forward almost three years and I had almost forgotten that the production was still running. That was until last week when I visited a Tamarai restaurant a few doors down on Drury Lane. Feeling slightly envious as I walked past the crowd of theatre goers, I walked into Tamarai and down the stairs into the dimly lit restaurant where my friend was waiting for me at the table, fanning herself manically. For a mid January evening, it was mild outside and rather hot inside.

I was at Tamarai to try out the £15 for three courses set menu. Usually when I see such an offer, I recoil and attempt to avoid at all costs but after some hardcore investigation (ten minutes on google), I was convinced to try it. So I did. And it was really rather good.

The waiters are the shy but efficient and extremely pleasant kind and were over straight away to take our orders. First thing was first, a cocktail. We both chose the Citrus Fling (£9), a fruity and sweet muddle of lemongrass vodka, lime, green tea cordial and cherry liquor. To our delight, they arrived ice cold and very alcoholic, whilst being almost too easy to sip back. You know, the kind that makes your ears feel hot after a couple of sips.

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For starter, I chose the Chettinad fish 65 with tomato pickle mayo and my friend the steamed chicken dim sum. I was very tempted by the Duke of Berkshire pork belly for main but was slightly sceptical as it wasn’t the most authentic sounding dish, considering we were dining in a pan Asian restaurant, so instead I chose the Thai green chicken curry. My friend went for the black tiger prawns, a dish that I avoid like the plague after seeing my boyfriend with food poisoning after eating tiger prawns a few years ago.

The starters were small but very enjoyable. My South Indian Chettinad style fish had a subtle spice, the batter crispy and not too oily. My friends dumplings were also delicious and upon first bite, I was transported straight back to Hong Kong where I had fresh delicious Dim Sum a plenty back in October.

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The mains arrived, each with a small bowl of steamed Jasmine rice. The Thai green curry was very creamy with just the right amount of spice. The chicken was tender and I polished the whole lot off pretty quickly. The prawns, I am told, were very good. The portion was small but I was glad. The amount of times I have left a restaurant after eating three large courses and feeling ill for the rest of the evening are countless.

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For dessert, both of us ordered sticky toffee pudding with galangal glaze and banana ice cream. Again, the portion was small but it was just enough to satisfy my post dinner sweet tooth. I couldn’t detect any banana in the ice cream, which was a shame, but the pudding itself was sticky and sweet – just perfect.

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Tamarai is an interesting establishment. The décor is dark and glitzy and we both agreed that we felt like we had been transported back to a the 90s, or that we were extras in an episode of Sex and the City. I was half expecting to see young girls with sky scraper heels and impossibly short skirts grinding to 50 Cent on the roped off dancefloor in the corner. But instead what I saw were couples of similar ages and a couple of large groups, all quietly enjoying their dinner. Perhaps the short skirts make an appearance late night.

I’m not saying that this was the best pan Asian food that I have ever eaten, because it wasn’t. And I probably wouldn’t go back for a full priced meal, but I’ll say it again, the three course meal for £15 is very good value.

Food For Think was a guest at Tamarai.

167 Drury Lane
London
WC2B 5PG
020 7831 9399
Tamarai on Urbanspoon

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